Friday, December 31, 2010

Confession 152: Passionate Prayer

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:44

Over the past few weeks, I have been working through Elizabeth George's study on the book of Luke.  As I am reading through Jesus' final days on Earth, I am struck once again at his prayer in Gethsemane.  In the past, I have always focused on his humanity--his desire to have the cup taken from him, his momentary reluctance to experience the suffering, the torture, the agonizing death on the cross.  It always comforts me to see Jesus as a human.  And then, to see him willingly take on the pain, the sacrifice that is to come--well, there are no words.

Yet today, it was verse 44 which touched my heart the most.  Look at it closely.  "Being in anguish, Jesus prayed more earnestly" and the prayer was so deep, so passionate, that Luke says "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."  Jesus prayed with his entire being, laying everything within him out before the throne of the Father!!  He literally gave his ALL in prayer!!  It was spiritual, it was mental, it was emotional, and it was physical.  Oh, my gosh!!  Do you know how paltry and uninspired my prayers seem in the face of this marvelous example?  

Most days, I think I pray with maybe a quarter of my being engaged.  I sit in the recliner with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the background, or walk the two blocks to work praying and watching for cars as I cross the street, or move through the kitchen praying, cooking, cleaning.  My prayers might be sincere, but they're not really earnest.  Instead of leaving it all before the Father, I hit all the names on the prayer list, make a quick mention of my husband and sons, cover the rest under "family and friends", and ask that God help me honor him with my day.  Somewhere along the line, I've lost the act of passionate prayer.  I have my moments, usually when I feel like my boat's about to go under and I have no other option.  But is that really good enough?

I think, if I'm being honest, the thought of praying earnestly and passionately is a little frightening.  What if I leave it all out there and God doesn't "come through"?  What if he doesn't grant the desires of my heart?  What if I decide the cost is just too much?  What if the direction he wants to take me in isn't the way I want to go?  What if I don't have what it takes to follow through?

The reality is, I will never have the relationship with God that I desire to have if I only give him part of myself.  And the reality is, God has a plan for my life that is so much more than what I could ever see or comprehend.  Passionate prayer is a way for me to let go of the wheel and to let God take over so that I might fully live this life he has given me.  Passionate prayer is my way of saying, "I'm all yours, God."  Scary?  Yes, but then, this is the One who literally gave everything to me.

So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit... 1 Corinthians 14:15

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Confession 151: Hit the Refresh Button!

I have a confession to make.  For all of my talk about the true meaning of Christmas and fighting the commercialization/materialism/secularism of the Christmas season, I have some expectations for Christmas that really have nothing to do with the birth of Christ.  I love Christmas!  I love the warmth of family get-togethers.  I love the cookies and candies and cheeseballs and ham and green bean casseroles.  I love listening to my dad read the Christmas story each year before digging into presents.  I love the joy, the laughter, the tales that get-togethers bring.  So, when the flu hit our household over Christmas, I was not a happy camper!  My husband, with the grace of God, made it through all three services.  I missed most of the first as I was doing clean-up for my youngest who was on an antibiotic which his body was expelling at an alarming rate!  Then my parents called--no Christmas dinner.  Mom was sick. 

"Well," I told my dad on the phone.  "This Christmas certainly...."

"It sucks!" he finished for me.

Needless to say, my heart was not where it should have been as we drove to our second service of the evening.  Fortunately, my in-laws were in town and had the kids, so it was just Chris and I.  As the service started, I became more and more convicted of my negative Christmas attitude.  I needed to hit the refresh button, and fast!  I bowed my head in prayer for a moment and asked God to forgive me my negativity and to remind me again of the true reason for this night and this celebration.  My husband's message was titled, "The Greatest Gift Ever" and the message was simple: "Boy, do I have good news for you!!"

I'd like to say that I hit my refresh button and my attitude was suddenly, miraculously transformed so that I, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, was yelling out the window as we drove through town, "Merry Christmas!!"  However, as I am human and not a figment of Charles Dickens' imagination, it wasn't that easy.  But my attitude after our second service was slightly improved, and by the time we were singing "Silent Night" in candlelight at the end of the third service, I was almost there. 

Christmas day provided a much needed opportunity to relax and unwind, and, we ate the ham my loving in-laws fortuitously brought with them from St. Louis.  I napped for a few hours and that evening we took a drive to see some lights and deliver gifts to my parents.

And so, I'm thankful this Christmas for family, for health, for rest.  And, most of all, I'm thankful that I worship a God who hit the biggest refresh button ever!!

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, December 27, 2010

Confession 150: Christmas

As my two year old is smacking his brother with a dinosaur, I don't have a lot of time to post.  However, I thought I'd leave you with these images of Christmas peace.  Many blessings!! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confession 149: And So This Is Christmas

Well, it seems as if our holiday tradition of illness or injury continues this year as my youngest, myself, my dad and I all came down with the flu this weekend and my in-laws are trying to work off colds.  Luckily, the icky part of the flu seems to be past, leaving behind a persistent cough that's about to do me in.  I took about 2 and 1/2 shots of whiskey last night before bed thinking that should take care of the cough.  Not sure it did much there, but I did get a great night's sleep and woke up very refreshed this morning!  Not wanting to start a bad habit, however, I decided to forgo Mr. Seagrum's for Mr. Robitussin tonight.  The result, wide awake and still coughing at a quarter to midnight.  I think I need some codine.

More important than my bout with the flu, this weekend saw the passing of one of the patriarchs of our church.  With six children and scores of grandchildren, he took his last breaths surrounded by over 20 family members, hearts full of love and gratitude for the life he lived.  Just before he passed, one of his grandsons called out, "We love you, Grandad!" This afternoon, the man's daughter told us how it seemed as if her nephew, in that moment, was cheering her dad on to the finish line of a race.  This family is so remarkable, so full of love, of life, and so full of gratitude for the lives they've shared with one another.  Although they have suffered loss, both now and previously, their hearts seem always full of joy and graciousness abounds from them.

And this thought also came to me: this is what Christmas is really about.  Christ came to conquer death.  When those who know Him leave this earth, they are welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation on the other side.  While we gather to mourn, the company of heaven gathers to celebrate the return of one who has come home.  These are the great tidings of glad joy the angels brought that night.  It wasn't just a celebration of birth, but of re-birth, of reconciliation.  It was a homecoming, and because of Jesus' homecoming, we will be welcomed home too.  O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant...

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Confession 148: Not Another Dumb Girl Movie

The Personal Finance kids in the class I'm subbing for are watching the movie Confessions of a Shopoholic as a fun end of semester treat.  I've never seen it before, and although it's not as bad as I initially thought it would be, I'm suddenly finding myself wanting to go into film making.  I've decided on a title for my as yet to be released (written) film: Not Another Dumb Girl Movie!!  You see, I'm tired of the ditzy portrayal of younger women in our society--girls who have no common sense, make the wrong/dumb choice at every turn, and yet still end up with the "perfect" guy because they're just so darn cute and cuddly!  Seriously?!  Where's Katherine Hepburn when you need her? 

I have to confess, I'm a huge classic movie buff.  My husband thinks it's ridiculous that I would choose to watch movies that were made before our parents were even born, but I love them.  And it's interesting to me that in a time when women did not have the opportunities that we have today so many of the classic film heroines would be such strong, smart, and witty chicks.  Look at the lineup: the aforementioned Kate, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy.  These women weren't pushovers, at least not on screen.  And, they weren't insecure.  I can't think of a Katherine Hepburn movie where her character would invent some crazy story about herself to avoid dealing with the honest truth of a difficult situation.  The female leads in these classic films were funny, but not stupid.  They could play the coquette without being vapid. They didn't play dumb, they played tough.

I can't help but think of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Strong, smart and self-reliant, she is praised above all women.  With her life she honors God. The Psalmist shows her taking care of her family, elevating her husband's status in the community, making profitable business decisions, and being brave in the face of life's calamities.  Verses 25 and 26 have this to say:
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
   she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom,
   and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 
WISDOM--we are sorely lacking this in our society, and it shows in our portrayals of young women in the media.  I don't know about you, but I want to help raise up Proverbs 31 women.  Women who pay with cash, not credit.  Women who get jobs based on their abilities and merit.  Women who have firm values in place, who are not afraid of the truth, and who will show kindness and generosity to others.  I don't want my boys to bring home silly girls when they get older.  I want them to bring home girls who are witty and bright.  I want them to bring home girls who can put them in their place when necessary and build them up when needed.  

Above all else, I don't want another dumb girl movie!
Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Confession 147: Shutterfly Christmas Cards

I'm a big fan of free stuff, especially since our funds are limited.  So, when a friend told me about a free Christmas card offer from the online photo shop, Shutterfly, I couldn't resist!  In all honesty, I love online photo shops. You get to control every aspect of your photo buying experience, customize all of your purchases, and get it for at least half of what you'd pay at a portrait studio.!

My husband and I have used online photo shops quite a bit over the past few years, designing our own Christmas cards and making unique gifts.  I'll share three with you here.

1. Christmas cards.  Shutterfly has a plethora of options when it comes to customizing your photo Christmas card.  With 803 choices starting at $.32 a card, you're bound to find something unique to you at a price you can handle!  And, the quality is fabulous!  I just received a new Shutterfly card in the mail from a friend, and it looked like something you would custom order at at a fancy printing company. The paper was not flimsy photo paper, but sturdy, quality, textured paper. And, there are lots of options for customizing.  My favorite are the collage cards where you can put several different pictures on one card.  Very cool!

2. Calendars.  My husband and I have found that custom made calendars are inexpensive, personalized gifts that last all year long!  Shutterfly has many options there as well. One of the great things you can do with Shutterfly calendars is to customize dates.  For instance, when my husband and I made a calendar we were able to include all of our family's birthdays and anniversary's on the calendar.  We were also able to include a small photo of our boys with the person whose birthday it was in the date box on the calendar.

3. Photo books.  Both my parents and my in-laws have made online photo books to commemorate vacations they have taken. Again, you customize and personalize everything.  My in-laws have two big photo books they made, one from Yellowstone, another from Alaska.  The first time I saw the book, I thought it was something they'd picked up from a bookshop on their trip.  When I opened it and saw the reflections of my mother-in-law, as well as ticket stubs and trip information, including maps, I was amazed.  It's truly an awesome thing to have!  We're going to be taking a big family trip this summer and will definitely look into Shutterfly's photo book page!!

So, go to Shutterfly and see what you think.  They have tons of great products at reasonable prices to meet all of your Christmas needs.  They even do stocking stuffers with magnets, notecards, magnets and playing cards--all under $10!

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Confession 146: Press on The Path

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

This past weekend, my boys came down with the stomach flu while we were visiting my parents.  My sister was there too, with her five month old daughter!  As it was impossible to drive the 35 miles back to our house, we hunkered down at Mom and Dad's--4 pairs of hands for two expulsionary kids.  Around one o'clock in the morning, as I was throwing yet another pair of pajamas into the wash and my mom and I were spot cleaning the carpets by flashlight, the thought entered my mind that life is simply a matter of endurance.  You just endure one thing after another until it's over and then you go sit on a cloud and play some harps--the end.  It was in this moment of self-pity that God slipped the above scripture into the back of my mind (He always has to meddle in my middling!)  I realized that life is indeed about enduring, but not in the whiny "my kids have the stomach flu and it really sucks" sort of way I was thinking.  Jump with me for a minute to the book of Mark.
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.’”And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
Mark 1: 2-7
I don't know about you, but I love John the Baptist.  This guy did not give a fig about what the world thought or expected of him.  From the time he was formed in his mother's womb he knew his purpose and he lived it out with confidence and gusto.  Not only did John know his purpose, he knew his place in the grand scheme of things.  And, he understood a thing or two about the nature of endurance.

Looking at these two passages of Scripture, two things become clear to me.  First, life is about enduring, but not enduring in the sense of "woe is me, my life is not working out the way I planned".  Rather, as Paul writes, we endure the way a marathon runner endures the rigors of a race.  We "press on" toward our goal through whatever challenges life may bring. 

Second, our goal in pressing on is, like John, to prepare the way for the Lord.  God called us, his people, to go forth and show his love to the world, to spread the good news of salvation, of hope, of mercy, of grace to as many people as we can.  Enduring is not about cleaning up runny poop in the middle of the night, or figuring out how to buy your kids more toys that they don't need, or stepping on the scale and having it yell, "Ouch!"  Rather, those who truly grasp the concept of endurance are those who are adopting a family for Christmas, who are providing meals for the hungry in their community, who are traveling to other continents to engage in the hard work of building wells, churches, community centers and homes.  Those who truly grasp the concept of endurance are those people who are training for races in remembrance and the hope that their efforts will mean no other family has fear when the doctor says the biopsy does not look good.  They are the people who make time to listen to a friend in need, who find ways to bring holiday cheer to those who are lonely or alone, those who campaign for laws that will positively benefit children and the poor of our nation.  And they do so regardless of the cost to themselves and regardless of what other people think of them and regardless of the challenges and stumbling blocks placed before them.  

I don't know about you, but this is the kind of life I want to endure.  I want to press on down the path that prepares the way for the Lord!
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4
Through endurance, we bring hope.  Please, God, let me endure!!
Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Confession 145: Contemplations on a Christmas Tree

It's almost midnight here in Missouri, and I'm just winding down from preparing the house ( for a ladies brunch at the parsonage tomorrow.  I am truly excited to have them over.  However, I find myself falling into that hosting mode of, "Is it enough?"  Do I have enough food?  Do I have enough decorations?  Do I have enough chairs?  Is the house clean enough?  It's a lot to come down from.  So, before heading off to bed to consider all of the enoughs I potentially have or don't have in my life, I decided to spend a few moments contemplating our Christmas tree.

There's something about the soft glow of a Christmas tree that puts my soul at peace.  Ours is blue again this year, the lights, not the tree itself.  Blue has become the color of compromise in our house.  This whirly-gig girl prefers a tree that sparkles in all shades of twinkly lights while my linear husband prefers the elegance of tempered white.  In blue, we have found the best of both.  Monochromatic, yet colorful at the same time.  Looking at our tree, decorated with the ornaments handed down to us over the years, I realize that more than symbolizing our ability to compromise, this tree represents our family.  Blending our childhood ornaments with ornaments we've received as a couple and the ornaments received by our children, I realize that this tree is us--a hodge-podge of memories and experiences coming together to make something beautiful.

Yet even beyond that, there is something sacred about a Christmas tree to me.  The tree is a silent sentinel through the winter--a sign of life continuing.  When I look at a Christmas tree, I hear the soft crunch of hardened snow, I see a world covered in white with no blemish or mark to mar it's surface.  I see the evergreen rising up from the earth, rooted to the earth, but not bound to the cycle of life and death on the earth.  It is a fitting symbol for the Christ-Child were are preparing to welcome once more.  Alive, pure, of the earth, yet unbound from its mortal constraints. It reminds me again of the purpose of this season.  And it reminds me, too, that above all else, Christ is enough.

Gazing at the Christmas tree I realize that it is indeed well with my soul.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2